Rights of the Individual

Individual freedom has been an important part of the Icelandic ethos since Settlement times.

Fleeing political persecution on the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norse farmers and sailors sought new lands where they could be their own lords. With no central government, decisions were reached at regional and national assemblies after discussion and deliberation. Although Iceland spent 700 years under the colonial yoke of Norway and Denmark, independence and self-sufficiency remained a hallmark of the Icelandic mentality. The national assembly, Alþingi, continued to convene during this time, and it now serves as Iceland's primary governing body, making Iceland the oldest parliamentary democracy in the world.

Despite old traditions, the Icelandic political mentality is progressive with the country repeatedly receiving top ranking in studies measuring political freedom, gender equality, and human development. Icelanders elected the world's first female president in 1980. The country has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report in recent years. The rating means Iceland is the country where women enjoy the most equal access to education and healthcare. It is also where women are most likely to be able to participate fully in the country's political and economic life. Women rank high in political empowerment, occupying nearly as many seats in parliament as men, but they also have achieved near equal participation in professional and technical jobs.

Iceland also is a leader in LGBT rights. In 2009, Icelanders also elected the first openly gay prime minister in the world. Domestic partnerships for same-sex couples have been legal since 1996. A new bill in 2010 not only made same-sex marriage legal, but it rendered marriage a gender-neutral institution, which means that there is no legal distinction between straight marriage and same-sex marriage. The nation has whole-heartedly embraced Reykjavík's Gay Pride festival as something of a national holiday. Abouta quarter of the population attends the festival annually—and it was never considered odd for Jón Gnarr, Reykjavík's former mayor, to show up to the festival in drag.

Iceland has also repeatedly clocked in as the most peaceful nation in the world according to the Global Peace Index published by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Although the US army maintained a base in Keflavík during World War II, and a small military presence until 2006, Iceland itself has never had its own standing army. Iceland's crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. Violent crime is rare, though taken seriously by the Icelandic police force. Automatic rifles and most handguns are illegal in Iceland. With the exception of Iceland’s Viking Squad (the SWAT team), the Icelandic police does not carry weapons.

Video Gallery

View more videos